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Minivan with a really bad attitude

In general I like my 1998 Chrysler Town and Country except when it won’t start. To specify: it will start, have the initial rev of the engine and go to settle into idling only the engine cuts out instead. After three or four tries it won’t turn over at all. It is not equipped with an immobilizer and Chrysler’s diagnostics show nothing wrong. Sometimes it won’t start for days and sometimes it will start less than an hour later and all variations in between. It ALWAYS starts when towed to Chrysler. They once had it for 18 days trying to reproduce the problem. Nothin’. Things replaced: battery, starter, AC compressor, key/fob with reprogramming. A weird quirk that may or may not be related is that sometimes, while driving, I lose all dash gauges and digital displays and the idiot lights for “check engine,” “anti-theft” and “ABS” pop on. This usually corrects itself quickly but it has also persisted for days at other times. Does anyone have any insight as to what this problem is? I have had no luck with mechanics, Chrysler mechanics or the Internet.

Is it possible that the difference between when you experience the problem and when the dealer techs are unable to reproduce it, is the weight of keys on the ignition lock cylinder? Some people have big key rings loaded with keys and fobs and knick-knacks but when they drop off the car for the service guys, you only leave the door/ignition key. Sounds like the ignition switch may be acting up and the mechanical connection from the lock cylinder can influence this. The weight of keys (or not) can have an effect. Just something to consider…

The only thing on my key ring is the key and fob. I had to replace the ignition in a Toyota years ago from too many keys on my ring so I learned my lesson. I don’t notice any pattern with the failure to start; weather, keys, driver, distance, start frequency or otherwise. The starter was replaced but not the ignition switch. The stupid thing will start, just cut off about three seconds later and after 3-4 tries won’t even crank. The computers at both my regular mechanic and Chrysler don’t detect any problem. I really don’t even know what to suggest the mechanic look at.

I would check fuel pump pressure. When you turn on the key the pump should run. It may have initial pressure, but then pressure bleeds down and the engine dies.

When you say the engine won’t crank after several tries I assume you mean the starter is working ok but the engine won’t fire up. But maybe you do mean the starter quits working, I’m not sure. As far as the engine dieing I suggest you try spraying some starter fluid into the intake to see if the engine fires up then. If that works then there is a problem with the fuel system. If it doesn’t help then the ignition system needs to be checked out.

For the gauge problem I would check for a bad power connection to the cluster. I assume the engine isn’t cutting out when the trouble occurs but if it is then the ignition switch area should be checked out.

These vans commonly suffer from bad solder points on the cluster. Just Google it. Doubt that has to do with the no start situation. I agree with the fuel pressure check (another weak link in these vans).

Galant is right. I found a photo series on Flickr.com that helped me fix it. I hope you are good with a soldering iron.

These connections can cause everything you described, and drive you nuts.

flickr.com/photos/landar/sets/72157617315319764/